• Fade To Black (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: Vernon Zimmerman
    Cast: Dennis Christopher, Tim Thomerson, Gwynne Gilford, Norman Burton, Linda Kerridge, Eve Brent
    Year: 1980
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Fade To Black – Movie Review:

    Directed by Vernon Zimmerman and released in 1980, Fade To Black is a genuinely weird thriller but also a very unique film, a breath of fresh air in a genre that often seems like it’s built on clichés. The story revolves around a young man named Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) who, like probably most people who read this site in the first place, is a pretty manic film fan. Eric is an odd duck. He lost his mother at a young age, never really had much of a father figure in his life, and these days he lives alone with his even odder Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), spending his days working at a film distribution company where he takes care of their library of old prints.

    Life isn’t always easy for Eric. He’s bullied on the regular and most of those his age just don’t seem to get him. And then he meets Marilyn O'Connor (Linda Kerridge), a blonde bombshell who bears an uncanny resemblance to another, more famous Marilyn, star of the silver screen. And Marilyn doesn’t shy away or pushback when Eric when he asks her on a date to the movies (of course). He is, of course, ecstatic until he shows up at the theater and she isn’t there. Around the same time, Eric gets into an argument with his boss and starts getting fed up with his aunt. He quickly becomes obsessed with Marilyn, needing to find out what happened and why and now more than happy to push back against anyone who might try and pick on him for his quirky ways. In fact, Eric takes it upon himself to find a more permanent solution to the bullies that have plagued him for years, taking inspiration for their murders from some of his favorite horror films.

    This one will work a whole lot better for you if you’re a movie buff, or more specifically a horror movie buff, as it goes pretty heavy with the references to plenty of classic genre pictures, offering nods to everything from the both versions of Nosferatu to London After Midnight to Spider Baby to Halloween to Tourist Trap. The influence of other classic pictures from outside the horror genre is here too, however, with Stagecoach, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Niagara, Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and maybe most obviously Kiss Of Death. There are plenty more scattered in throughout the film's duration. All of this is done effectively and clearly with love and enthusiasm on the prat of Zimmerman (who a few years prior had directed Claudia Jennings in the roller derby hit Unholy Rollers), who typically goes for a more subtle approach rather than taking the heavy-handed approach that other filmmakers might have opted for.

    Of course, a big part of the reason that this works as well as it does is Dennis Christopher’s performance. He's gone on to have a pretty interesting career mostly in television, playing Bellgarde on Deadwood and Eddie Kaspbrak in the TV movie version of IT, though he's done quite a bit of film over the years as well. He's really strong here, crafting a character that is believably sensitive but also pretty intense once that switch is flipped in his brain. He's perfectly strange in the part, playing the obsessive movie geek pretty much flawlessly and as his character starts to snap, fantasy and reality starting to meld in dangerous ways, he really gives it his all. Linda Kerridge is also very good here, looking very much the part so that we can see why Eric would quickly fall for her. Eve Brent as the aunt also turns in solid work and Tim Thomerson is fun as a psychologist.

    There’s a good bit of style on display here and a really effective score to keep things moving along nicely. The cinematography is solid and the murder set pieces well-staged and quite creative. There’s good character development here and a smart script as well. The dialogue sometimes feels off, a little ham-fisted maybe when it should have felt more natural, but Fade To Black is good stuff, and a movie well worth your time.

    Fade To Black – Blu-ray Review:

    Fade To Black arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 30.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative, picture quality is very strong. This is a naturally grainy looking film but that’s not a bad thing, it just adds to the texture and film-like quality that this transfer offers up. colors are reproduced really nicely, those neon lights really popping in a few scenes, and detail is nice and strong throughout. There’s very little actual print damage here at all, just the odd speck now and again. Black levels look really good, as do skin tones. There are no problems with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifact related issues – overall, the movie looks great here.

    The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, in the film’s original English language, is also excellent. There’s solid depth and clarity noticeable throughout the score sounds lively and appropriately intense, as do the sound effects. Dialogue is always clear and the track is nicely balanced from start to finish. No problems here at all, the audio sounds really good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only and an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also provided.

    Vinegar Syndrome has gone all out with the extra features for this release, starting with the first of three (!!!) commentary tracks, which features actor Dennis Christopher and moderator Brad Henderson. The tracks starts off with some talk about Christopher's appreciation of the opening where classic movie dialogue overlaps with Eric going through the TV guide looking for films to watch. He also talks about the set that was created for Eric's room, some of the intricacies of Eric's character, why Christopher didn't want to do the movie at first and the issues that he had with the dialogue in the script, how he really got along with Eve Brent, how the film has come to take on a certain social significance in modern days, having to act with a cast on his leg, preparing for the role, some of the locations that were used for the shoot, how he had to 'fight like crazy' to get the iconic makeup scene in the movie and the specific intentional look used in that scene, the evolution of Eric's character, a lot of the little details that are evident in the background of the film and lots more.

    The second commentary features the guys from The Hysteria Continues podcast. This is, like most of their tracks, a pretty personable and laid back talk about the movie. They start by discussing their own experiences seeing the movie for the first time and how important a good presentation can be to those first impressions, how a few of them were originally disappointed during their first watch expecting a more traditional slasher movie than what they got, the fun you can have trying to pick out all of the different references in the film, details on the cast and crew involved with the shoot, how Kerride was remarkably shy in her younger days and the effect that this had on her career, why it's worth paying attention to what might at first seem like throwaway lines, the symbolism between the 'white picket fence' death in the film and how it reverses the theme of vampirism, how the movie paints a negative picture of film obsessives, subplots that were cut out of the final version of the movie and much, much more.

    The third track, touted as a historical commentary, lets film historians Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman. Lots of great info in this one including an interesting note that the opening was originally to take place at a screening where Eric looked down on an audience attending a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, how Blondie was originally meant to contribute to the soundtrack, plenty of the film references that are used throughout the movie, the use of clips in the picture, loads of details about the cast and crew members that worked on the film including how and why a young Mickey Rourke showed up in the film, the time capsule quality of the picture and how it captures a certain time of Los Angeles' history, how the film toys with different horror and slasher movie conventions, the film's connection to Blade Runner and Charlton Heston, Christopher's influence on how the film turned out, Zimmerman's increasing reputation as a filmmaker, the movie's release history and a lot more.

    From there, we move onto the featurettes, the first of which is Living & Dying For The Movies, an interview with Dennis Christopher. Here, over seventeen-minutes, Christopher speaks quite candidly about how and why he originally rejected the script but later took it after not being able to get the Eric Binford character out of his mind, needing to make Eric sympathetic, how he came to the attention of the film's producer via Linda Kerridge (and how he crushed on her), what was improvised during the shoot, having to get into costume multiple times, the murder set pieces in the film and his influence on how they turned out, the film’s original ending and plenty more related to his work on the picture.

    Celluloid Heroes interviews executive producer Irwin Yablans. In this twenty-six-minute piece, he talks about how he's done pretty much everything in the movie business since getting his start years ago, talking about his education (no film school!) and experience in his younger days. He then tells some great stories about climbing the ladder, how the industry and studio system has changed over the years, different people that he's worked with over the years, the trickiness of having to sell a film, meeting John Carpenter in his early days and helping to release his pictures outside of the big studio system starting with Assault On Precinct 13, going into business for himself after selling a few titles to foreign territories, how he came onboard for Fade To Black, how he felt Zimmerman really was Eric in real life in certain ways, how he takes pride in not having worked on gory or sadistic genre pictures, the importance of having Dennis Christopher on board, the importance of learning about editing if you want to get into the film business and plenty of other topics.

    Special effects artist Wayne Beauchamp is up next in a piece called Taking The Hits, where he covers, over twelve-minutes, how he got his start doing effects work after trying initially to make it as a stuntman, learning the trade from his neighbor, how his military experience came in handy, landing the gig working on Fade To Black, some of the trickiness that was involved in a few of the bigger set pieces, working with explosives on the film, using wires to detonate the squibs during the machine gun scene and a whole lot more. Lots of talk here about the tricks of the trade and how tough the shoot was given that he only had two people to help him on the film.

    A Shiny Quality lets actress Marcie Barkin speak for nineteen-minutes about how this film is one of her favorite projects from throughout her career. She talks about how she fell into acting after studying English and working as a secretary, getting her start doing commercials, how she wound up getting cast in Fade To Black after doing some TV work, working with Carroll O'Connor, her thoughts on the script and character she was cast as, working with the other cast and crew involved with the picture, how she and Kerridge immediately felt like best friends and what it was like working on low budget B-movies versus what it was like working on Fade To Black.

    Composer Craig Safan talks about his work on the picture in Experimenting With Sound, a twelve-minute piece where he speaks about getting into music and composing as a child and then scoring films in his mid-twenties. He talks about how Fade To Black was an earlier project for him, some of the ideas that he tried to bring to the score, using synths on the film, borrowing from old movie scores without copying them, trying to replicate what was going on in Eric's brain with the music, working with a string orchestra on the score, the freedom he had writing the music for the film and his thoughts on the film overall.

    Finishing The Story interviews editor Barbara Pokras for nine-minutes. She talks about starting in film in the sixties and working with Roger Corman, her education and background, being one of the few women in her graduating class, how important her work at New World was to her career, cutting Filipino imports that Corman got from Cirio Santiago, her thoughts on exploitation films in general, how she appreciated the twisted sense of humor that Zimmerman brought to his projects, working with him on Unholy Rollers doing sound before editing Fade To Black, the use of stock footage in the movie and lots more.

    The last of the video featurettes is A Brush With Darkness, featuring stylist Patricia Bunch in a fifteen-minute piece. This interview covers how she got into the film industry after having two kids and wanting to do something fantastic with her life. She talks about going to night school, getting her education and training, her early work on Galaxina and The Return, moving up the ladder on Joysticks and then on Fade To Black. She talks about her thoughts on Zimmerman, the quality of the script, how she was the third makeup artist on the picture after the original two left, the specifics of having to apply makeup to Christopher's character and how intense he was to work with, having to makeup a stunt double for the aunt's death scene and a lot of the little tricks she did on the movie before then leaving non-union features to do bigger TV projects later in her career.

    The disc also contains and audio interview with actress Linda Kerridge that lasts just over thirty-one-minutes. She talks about how she got the role, offers up some background inforamtion on the few projects she did before this feature, how she landed the role on Fade To Black, how her resemblance to Monroe has affected her career over the years, her modelling career, how she loved being in film but wanted to get away from being a Monroe clone, how she got along with Dennis and hung out with him on a regular basis during the making of the film, her thoughts on the shoot and some of the highlights from her time on the set, how her lack of self-confidence affected her career, what she did after getting out of film, starting a new career as a painter and more.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a still gallery, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the exclusive Black Friday edition of this release not only features some nice reversible cover art but also comes with two different slipcovers featuring some nice spot varnish and embossment embellishments.

    Fade To Black – The Final Word:

    A very unique and enjoyable slice of Fade To Black early eighties horror, Fade To Black holds up well. It’s as clever and weird as it is enjoyable and Vinegar Syndrome has done an excellent bringing it to Blu-ray in a proper special edition loaded with extras and giving the feature itself a really impressive presentation. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Fade To Black Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      I was so thrilled to see Fade to Black finally getting an HD release after hearing about it all these years. After after all this time I have to admit, I'm disappointed. I see why it gets the praise it does but it just missed the mark a for me. I love the premise and Dennis Christopher's portrayal of Eric Binford. The problem I have is that it fails as a slasher because it takes too long to get to the kills and needed more exploitation. But worse, is that two things keep it from being an satisfying character study. The subplot with Tim Thomerson kills the momentum of the main story every time it creeps in and the Marilyn subplot is woefully underdeveloped. There was something really cool about Marilyn. It's unfortunate they didn't do more with it. That said, there are some incredibly cool moments for sure, but unfortunately when the credits role I'm left wondering what could of been.